Nobody agrees with everyone all the time. In fact, lots of people disagree most of the time. 

Just because people have differences of opinion doesn’t necessarily mean that either party is fundamentally wrong. 

Having people with different opinions working together is essential for success at any company, as it offers alternative points of views, experiences and considerations that may not otherwise be known if everyone was agreeable or came to the table with the same background. 

Conflicts can also inspire creativity and innovation when they’re dealt with properly. But what should you do when a difference of opinion at work turns sour and threatens disharmony among the ranks? 

Conflict at work is common. One of the main reasons why this is so, is that both parties are either unwilling to admit defeat or unable to find a compromise. But the healthiest working relationships don’t shun confrontation – they learn how to navigate it with certain techniques in order to reach a positive resolution and outcome.

How to handle minor conflicts at work

When they’re small, it’s relatively easy to deal with conflicts at work immediately. Like any other soft skill, being assertive takes practise. It’s generally much easier to speak up at the start of a conflict instead of waiting it out. If you have a hard time being direct with people close to you, look for everyday opportunities to practise with strangers, such when you have an issue with your internet provider or need to 

You may also need to rethink your idea of conflict. Being assertive or speaking your mind isn’t necessarily nasty, selfish, or aggressive. Conflicts aren’t always bad – they are in fact often necessary for change – and even the most heated confrontations can be constructive.

If there is a sense of frustration, it’s often the sign of one or both parties feeling like they’re not being listened to or it’s come down to miscommunication, which has caused the resulting problems. In any case, it will need to be cleared up. 

If the conflict is of a serious nature and has affected either your sense of safety, mental health or wellbeing, or your team’s, you should get in touch with your HR manager immediately for an urgent, confidential meeting and submit an incident report.

Tips for ongoing conflict resolution in the workplace

The way you manage conflict at work is extremely important: handle it badly, and things can quickly escalate and turn ugly. On the other hand, avoiding dealing with conflict breeds resentment and allows the conflict to build to breaking point, by which time it may be too late to repair and will end up in a more serious situation (formally reported to HR and goes against your record, or someone quits).

The hardest part can be taking the first step. You’ll need to arrange a meeting with the other party or parties; if you bring it up unexpectedly it may feel like an attack. This is especially important if you are dealing with a conflict among your team members. You must be seen to be a fair and neutral party, with everyone offered the same courtesies during the resolution process. If you feel that you are unable to do this due to the dynamic, call on your manager or another senior team member to help facilitate it objectively.

Consider the following points to help you deal with workplace conflict effectively

  • Address it as soon as possible. Seek to resolve a conflict sooner rather than later, not just for your own sake; your whole team could suffer if there’s unnecessary tension in the office.
  • Be prepared. Make a list of the points you want to discuss beforehand. Without preparing for a conversation and setting an agenda, you may end up arguing and making things worse. 
  • Have a conversation not an altercation. Tell the other person/people why it’s important for you to resolve the conflict. Point out that spending your days in conflict with each other could be bad for productivity, the office atmosphere and everyone’s wellbeing.
  • Seek clarity. Never assume someone has done or said something out of spite; they might have a perfectly valid reason for their actions, which is why it’s important to clarify the situation.
  • Be open to compromise. Don’t be tempted into thinking you have to prove the other party wrong. Fighting it out won’t get you anywhere, so aim to compromise.
  • Find common ground. Set a mutual goal, such as promising you will always hear the other person out, even if you disagree with what they say.

Here are more tips for having successful difficult conversations and how to get positive outcomes.

Be the bigger person

Keep in mind that you can be assertive without being aggressive. And sometimes being the bigger person can actually de-escalate the situation.

Again, if the conflict has gotten out of hand and affecting your work, it may be worthwhile speaking to someone outside your team and directly reaching out to the HR department. 

HR will have methods and advice for how to resolve a conflict at work in your particular organisation.

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